Time Limitations in Filing Suit

What are the two preliminary questions any potential plaintiff is faced with at the outset of a lawsuit?

They are:   How were you harmed?


When were you injured?

The first question is one of sheer common sense after finding lawyer, but the second is a ticking time bomb. All jurisdictions require different classes of lawsuits to be filed within a certain time period. Some states, like Montana and Texas, refer to this time period as the "Statute of Limitations." Other states have different, and sometimes obscure, terms for this period (such as Louisiana, which calls the time in which to file suit, a "prescription").

The general reasoning behind limiting the time in which to bring suit has to do with the concepts of preserving evidence, the transitory nature of witness' memories, and the broad sense that, after a certain amount of time passes, it's unfair to bring an action against another party.

Personal injury

In Montana, most torts (civil wrongs) must, in general, be brought within three years from the date of injury, with some notable exceptions. M.C.A. 27–2–204(2).  Actions for defamation and malicious prosecution, for example, must be brought within two years, as must actions involving the intentional tort of assault. M.C.A. 27–2–204(3).

Damage to property

Claims for trespass, damage to real or personal property, killing or injuring livestock by a railroad, or the taking of personal property must be brought with two years. M.C.A. 27–2–207.

Unfair Trade Practices Act Claim – Unfair Claim Settlement Practices

A third party must bring his or her claim within a year of settlement or entry of judgment in the underlying case. M.C.A. 33–18–242(7)(b)

Medical malpractice

Generally, actions against health–care providers must be filed within two years of the date when the act giving rise to the injury occurred, or within two years from the date that the injury was, or should have been, discovered. M.C.A. 27–2–205(1).  A medical malpractice claim may not be filed more than five years after the act giving rise to the injury occurred The limitation rules apply to minors that are four years of age and older. In the case of minors under four, the statute begins to run on the minor's eighth birthday (or death, whichever is earlier). M.C.A. 27–2–205(2).

Special rules for minors

Except in cases of medical malpractice, the statute of limitations begins to run on the minor's 18th birthday. M.C.A. 27–2–401.


Cases involving written contracts must be brought within eight years (oral contracts are limited to five years, other oral obligations must be filed within three years).   M.C.A. 27–2–202 . Other states drastically differ in the time limitations for bringing a lawsuit.

Wrongful discharge from employment

Actions for wrongful discharge under the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) must be filed within one year after the date of discharge. M.C.A. 39-2-911. There is a "tolling" procedure under the Act, and time requirements for employers to inform terminated employees of written internal procedures under which an employee may appeal a discharge within the organizational structure of the employer. M.C.A. 39-2-911(3).

Situations where limitations are extended

What happens when a person cannot reasonably discover the cause of his or her injury, or even that it has occurred within the statute of limitations, due to the self–concealing nature or the injury or concealment by the defendant? The "Discovery Rule" sometimes permits a lawsuit to be filed after the running of the statute within a period of time after the injury is discovered, or should have been discovered. M.C.A. 27–2–102(3)(a),(b). Be warned that the discovery rule does not apply to all civil injuries, and should not be relied upon for not timely seeking legal assistance!

Whatever action you are contemplating, be it in tort or contract, against a corporation or governmental entity, if you fail to file your lawsuit, or give the proper notice, within the respective time periods, you may be barred from bringing your claim. Because of the built–in complexities of time limitations in our legal system, we strongly recommend that you get legal advice on your claim as soon as possible!